Since the pandemic shut down theaters, there has been little or no screenings of classic films in real movie theaters. That’s why the Cerrito’s opening festival seemed so wonderful last May. But now, we’re getting more classics on the big screen, thanks to the Balboa, the Roxie, and the Vogue.
Festivals & Series
The Rose Foundation’s 2021 Virtual Film Fest continues through this week and beyond
Veinte por veinte (20 for 20) closes Sunday
BAMPFA is finally showing films in its main theater. Only documentaries, and only Wednesday evenings. I’m sorry to say that I missed this Wednesday’s screening of The Murder of Fred Hampton. This week they’re showing The Private Property Trilogy: A Survey of the Life and Films of C.B.
New films opening
C On Broadway, Embarcadero Center, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday
This isn’t so much a documentary, but rather an advertisement for New York City’s big and flamboyant theater district. I’m not sure if the filmmakers are marketing to people who might buy tickets, or those considering investing in the next big musical. The film focuses almost entirely on big hits. There’s nothing about starving actors, starving playwrights, or starving musicians – not to mention sexual abuse. To be fair, clips from the plays and rehearsals are fun to watch and even a little enlightening. Read my full review.
Triple Bill in a real theater
Hal Ashby birthday celebration at the Balboa, Saturday
A- Harold and Maude, 12:00 noon & 8:00
At a time when young Americans embraced non-conformity, free love, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance comedy between a death-obsessed young man and a 80-year-old woman made total sense. See my full discussion.
B- The Landlord, 2:30
Beau Bridges plays a spoiled rich kid who buys an apartment house in a Brooklyn ghetto with the intention of evicting the residents. It doesn’t work that way. First-time director Ashby had greater work ahead of him.
A Being There, 5:00
Peter Sellers gave the best performance of his life as a mentally deficient TV addict in this biting satire. An accident brings him into the halls of wealth and power, where his idiotic comments are interpreted as sage advice, courageous honesty, or brilliant wit. Funny and biting.
Another chance to see (virtually)
A Son of Monarchs, BAMPFA
This story of a young man between two countries doesn’t really have much of a story, but since it has some fascinating characters, I have no problem with that. Mendel was born and raised in Michoacán, where he and his older brother were amazed by the monarch butterflies that migrated through their neighborhood. They also witnessed their parents’ accidental deaths. Now the adult Mendel lives in New York as a biologist, studying those same monarchs. Standing between two cultures, he doesn’t always know where he belongs. A visual and audio treat that brings you into different worlds while Mendel deals with both.
A- Searching for Mr. Rugoff (2019), Rafael
Much of independent films and independent theaters may never have happened without Donald Rugoff. In the ’60s and ’70s, he built theaters and distributed films and disconnected cinema from Hollywood. Yet until last week I never heard of him, even though I knew his distribution and theater company, Cinema 5. Films he brought to American theaters include Z, Putney Swope, Seven Beauties, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He loved movies, but he apparently didn’t love people. He treated his employees horribly, and yet many stayed with him well up until he suddenly fired them. Read my short article.
D+ 499 (2020), Roxie, opens Friday
A 16th-century conquistador (Eduardo San Juan) climbs out of the sea and finds himself in modern Mexico, ready to take over the land and force everyone into Catholicism. But this semi-documentary is worse than it sounds. For the most part, director Rodrigo Reyes looks at the country’s poverty-caused violence, allowing people to talk about their mostly tragic lives. But the documentary sections never get deep enough, while the fantasy conquistador scenes don’t really mesh with the serious stuff – even when someone tells his story to a man in armor.
A+ North By Northwest, Roxie, Friday, 6:15; Saturday, 4:00
35mm! A glib advertising man (Cary Grant) becomes the victim of mistaken identity in Alfred Hitchcock’s most entertaining thriller. Foreign spies want to kill him, and the police want to arrest him for a murder he didn’t commit. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman provided almost as many laughs as thrills, balancing them deftly. Hitchcock made thrillers more frightening and thoughtful than North by Northwest, but he never made one more entertaining. Read my A+ appreciation.
A+ Bicycle Thieves, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30
If the point of cinema is to create empathy, both for the characters on the screen and for real people, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thief is the greatest film ever made. It’s about desperate poverty, and how the desperately poor feed on other desperately poor because they have no other options. When someone steals Antonio’s bicycle, it threatens the struggling man’s ability to feed his wife and children. So Antonio and his young son wander through Rome, searching desperately for the precious machine that will keep them from starving. Read my Blu-ray review.
A+ Casablanca (1942), Vogue, Friday, 7:30; Saturday, 1:30, 4:30, & 7:30
You’ve either already seen the best film to come out of the classic Hollywood sausage machine, or you know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece. It was made like any other moderately-budgeted film that came out of the Warner assembly line that year. Yet somehow, the machine turned out a masterpiece–one of the great American films. Perhaps it’s the million monkeys on a million typewriters theory. Somehow, just this once, the sausage came out perfect. For more details, see Casablanca: The Accidental Masterpiece.
B+ Clueless, Lark Drive-in, Sunday, 8:00
Loosely adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, this coming-of-age comedy follows a rich, well-meaning, but superficial teenage girl (Alicia Silverstone) as she tries to fix other people’s problems as well as her own. Sweet and funny, it looks at adolescent foibles with a sympathetic eye, rarely judging youthful behavior. With a surprisingly young Paul Rudd as the great guy she can’t recognize.